Alaska News Nightly: December 24, 2009

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Tug Runs Aground on Bligh Reef
Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage
A tugboat ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound last night and ripped a hole in its keel, spilling diesel fuel. Crowley Maritime’s “Pathfinder” managed to get free of the reef within half an hour and make it to calmer waters, where spill containment boom was deployed around it. The grounding took place not far from the site of the nation’s most notorious oil spill, the wreck of the Exxon Valdez, twenty years ago. A number of vessels are on the scene now, and two divers have had a look at the ripped hull.  They report that about four and a half feet of the “Pathfinder’s” keel is gone. Two fuel tanks lost pressure when the boat hit the reef, and they contained as much as 33 and a half thousand gallons. Coast Guard spokesman Chief Petty Officer Dana Warr says an overflight at first light reported an oil slick in the water.

Senate Passes Historic Health Care Bill
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
The US Senate has passed the Democratic-led health care reform bill. The vote split down party lines this morning:  60 Democrats and Independents voted yes, and 39 Republicans voted against it. Alaska’s Senators sided with their respective parties. The Senate health care bill also includes reauthorizing the Indian Health Service, something Alaska’s Senators have long been pushing. But Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski is firmly against the overall bill.  In the New Year, the Senate bill will have to be merged, or reconciled, with a version passed by the House.

Coast Guard to Donate Salmon to Kotzebue
The Associated Press
The Coast Guard plans to deliver more than 13 tons of donated salmon to Kotzebue next week. The scheduled Monday delivery is part of a special food drive sponsored by Wells Fargo Bank and NANA Regional Corp. The 27,000 pounds of silver salmon fillets and dry goods being delivered will be distributed to families in Kotzebue and surrounding villages. The fillets were donated through SeaShare, a nonprofit group based in Bainbridge Island, Wash.

Author Expresses Love for Brooks Range
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
Anchorage Author Bill Sherwonit fell in love with the Brooks Range when he first visited the area as a geologist in the early 1970’s. He explores the place and his appreciation for it in his new book, “Changing Paths: Travels and Mediations in Alaska’s Arctic Wilderness.”  He begins the book with a 50 mile solo trek through the Brooks Range when he turned 50. Sherwonit says he had never spent two weeks alone, so it was a way to challenge himself and get to know the landscape better.

Tribes Encouraged to Contribute to Subsistence Plans
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
The department of Interior is urging Alaska tribes to get their comments in on how the department should go about overhauling the subsistence management system. Interior’s Special assistant for Alaska Pat Porchout says although there isn’t an immediate cut off for comments, he urges expediency.

Federal Government Keeps Alaska Homeless Programs Funded
The Associated Press
The federal government has renewed grant funding to keep 22 homeless assistance programs in Alaska in operation. The grants total more than $3 million in Alaska and were announced on Wednesday. The funding is part of nearly $1.4 billion awarded to more than 6000 existing programs nationwide for housing and service to homeless people.

Anchorage School Celebrates Holiday with a Twist
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
It’s a school event that’s almost as common as reading, writing and arithmetic–the annual December Holiday program. While fun, they seem similar. But not always. KSKA’s Len Anderson recently attended one with some unique qualities.

Juneau Episcopalians Nearly Finished with New Church
Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau
As Christians throughout Alaska celebrate Christmas in various houses of worship, one Juneau congregation’s Christmas Eve service will be particularly joyous.  The Church of the Holy Trinity is in its new building, nearly four years after an arson fire destroyed the original church.  The new building is not finished, but as Rosemarie Alexander from member station KTOO reports, the Episcopalians say that seems fitting.